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Secret Ballot (Sous-titres français)

Nassim Abdi , Cyrus Abidi , Babak Payami    DVD
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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This gentle, low-key comedy follows a female civil servant of an Islamic country (presumably Iran, but specifics aren't given) as she travels around a sparsely populated island, trying to get the inhabitants to vote on election day. Her efforts are both helped and hindered by the reluctant soldier who has been assigned to accompany her--but far more significant hurdles are language barriers, deep-seated gender prejudices, and mechanical breakdowns. The civil servant struggles to maintain her faith in democratic processes in the face of indifference, antagonism, and absurdity. When someone tells her, "Voting doesn't catch fish," she has no reply, yet perseveres in her attempt to make the world better. Secret Ballot is slow-paced, but the movie's rhythms suit the world it depicts. Nassim Abdi, as the civil servant, gives a wonderfully engaging performance; her innocent, open face captures both the humor and the sadness in her struggle. --Bret Fetzer

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"Secret Ballot" starts with a unique visual image: a tiny speck of airplane's shadow and something dropping from it, against the beautiful sunrise. And that something plays the central role of this mildly amusing, low-keyed political satire. But that is not all that you will see in this Iran-Italy production.
"Secret Ballot" is about an incongrous pair: one laconic soldier guarding somewhere on the sleepy coast of an unnamed island in Iran, and a talkative female civil servant coming there to collect votes for the election. The latter has to complete her job by 5 p.m., and the soldier, to his great dismay, is ordered to accompany her around the island.
The small tour is filled with episodes concerning their task. and not many islanders are friendly to her. Or they just don't understand her job. In spite of her lofty idealism and unstoppable energy, her job turns out nothing smooth because of the differences of belief, custom, and language. And so many unexpected things happen to her -- one of the votes is even hidden under a rock.
To see her doing at best (still not without disillusion about democracy in general) makes you see the point of the film clear, but there is another asset to the film, an underplayed romantic aspect between the two leads. Watching over her never-ending struggle, the soldier, who was at first very hostile, gradually changes his attitudes towards her. As the appointed time for her to leave comes near, we also understand his feelings to her in his words, which are in themselves very few. Don't miss that point, and that's why a slightly surprise ending gives the entire film more pathos than you expect. No longer this island is a sleepy place for the soldier.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A simple - and slow-moving - little pleasure April 16 2003
'Secret Ballot' is the epitome of a 'small' movie. Set on a desolate island off the coast of Iran, it's the story of a voting agent's day - 8:30 AM to 5 PM - as she tries to collect the votes of the island's sparse population while in the company of a grumpy Iranian army conscript.
Along the way, she tackles:
1) Sexism (as the conscript tells her: "They told me an agent was coming, not a woman").
2) Illiteracy (she's forced to resort to pictures of the candidates)
3) Fundamentalism ("I cast my vote for God" one guy keeps telling her)
4) Apathy and skeptism (and who can blame these folks? Despite Khatami's 'democratic' victory, the unelected theocrats still rule the day in Iran)
...and a lot more.
The relationship between the two leads develops slowly and you have very nuanced exchanges like:
Conscript: "When is the next election?"
Agent: "In four years. Elections are held every four years."
Conscript: "Why not hold them three or four times a year? That would be better"
...by this point in the film, this isn't a political statement. It's just the conscript's very (very) subtle way of saying "Gee, it would be great if I could see you more."
Here's a warning: This is a *very* slow-moving film. There are sequences at the beginning where you see a soldier spend five minutes getting ready for bed (in a dilapidated outside cot); then the agent spend two minutes getting the sand off of her feet.
I can see Babak Payami's motivation here. We're being shown how simple and unaffected - and pretty darn difficult - life is on this island. But if you're watching this on a full stomach, be careful: you may nod off. This is not intended as a slam of the film, which - on the whole - I enjoyed very much. I'm just saying you're going to need some energy to soldier through the first 20 minutes of 'Secret Ballot.' Just being honest.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Democracy storms a sleepy place March 2 2003
In the first scene of SECRET BALLOT, a large box is parachuted from of a plane flying out of the sunrise. It lands on an Iranian island, on the beach guarded by two soldiers. These are apparently the only two armed representatives of authority in the place, and "guard" may be an overstatement. Catching smugglers is their assignment, but they do it with only one bed, one rifle, and one timepiece between them. In any case, inside the crate are a ballot box and instructions for the soldiers to expect the arrival of an elections agent at 8:00 AM. They're further ordered to escort the agent around the island and collect votes in that day's national election.
A half-hour late, a small motorboat lands on the beach, and off clambers the agent - a modern young woman complete with chador and a missionary zeal for her job, which must be completed by 5:00 PM. At first, the soldier on duty is reluctant to do the agent's bidding. After all, she's a woman, and this is Islamic Iran. However, after she waves the undeniable fact of "his orders" in his face, off they bounce in a jeep to harvest ballots for the box. The film's screenplay does not provide names for the agent or the soldier, but they're played by Nassim Abdi and Cyrus Abidi respectively.
The humor and pace of SECRET BALLOT is much like the island itself - sleepy. In fact, you may need a large java to stay focused on the English subtitles of the Farsi dialogue. But the film isn't without a gentle charm, especially if you're curious about the world around you and you've not been to this corner of it.
The soldier is, to put it charitably, a stolid, unimaginative sort. But he does know the pulse of the island.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Quiet Gem
What a wonderful, charming little film!
And it's very, very funny!
I loved it and laughed out loud many, many times. My 20-year old son didn't get it, though. Read more
Published on June 29 2004 by Howie
1.0 out of 5 stars Could have used some editing
I really wanted to like this film. It did raise some interesting points about society and humanity. I'll even agree with some of the other reviewers that the more subtextual... Read more
Published on Feb. 6 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily misunderstood masterpiece
This film is easily misunderstood, but even those who do not fully understand it, will enjoy it and find it "sweet", "charming" or "gentle". Read more
Published on Feb. 1 2004 by MW van Staden
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow? yes, but it lingers sweetly with you for a long time
Personally, I enjoy "slow" movies- you get to savor the atmosphere and the characters- why the rush all the time? Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars very pretentious
I have seen alot of Iranian films but I think this one is a bit on pretentious side. Maybe it inflicts the thoughts and style of the director, but I didn't like it at all anyway. Read more
Published on Dec 11 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars not everyone's cup of tea, but just like i like mine, sweet!
This movie is a very realistic look at a culture most of us don't know, and maybe don't care to. If you are looking for action, forget this movie. Read more
Published on Oct. 1 2003 by Julie Happy
5.0 out of 5 stars My "Opinion", universally is what?
This film is very funny. The political point is clear. The only thing I see other reviewers expressing disapointment about is "it's slow pace". Read more
Published on Sept. 28 2003 by Peter Baumann
1.0 out of 5 stars A Vote Against
This has to be the slowest movie I've seen since La Dolce Vita. The idea is great--an Iranian election agent trying to gather votes from a remote island whose residents are really... Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2003 by Glen Engel Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent movie!
Let's talk about the DVD itself. The only thing special is that you have control of what language to see the subtitles...that's about it...and scene selections. Read more
Published on June 22 2003 by Orchid Goddess
2.0 out of 5 stars Watch it by chewing energy bars constantly
Again, a simple-minded movie like "The Wind Will Carry Us". This time, on a remote Island belongs to Iran. Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2003
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